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Task force supporters

This is a column from Robert Montgomery for ESPN Outdoors. As a Senior Writer for BASS Publications, Montgomery has written about conservation, environment, and access issues for more than two decades. It's part of a series of articles from Montgomery on the issue.

As time nears for the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to issue its final recommendations to the Obama administration for a management strategy that could has the potential to limit recreational fishing on many of the nation's public waters, anglers are wondering if their voice will be loud enough.

"The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Champions, and others are already asking for the President to issue an executive order adopting the final recommendations of the task force, well before the public comment period (deadline Feb. 12) and final document are completed," said Phil Morlock, director of environmental affairs for Shimano.

"This begs the question of what information they may have which we do not, which would convince them to be supporting a major national policy that is yet to be finalized or published."

President Barack Obama issued a memo in June 2009, creating the task force from high-level government officials. Its mission has been to develop a spatial management strategy for the nation's oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes.

Despite input from organizations such as BASS, the American Sportfishing Association, and the Center for Coastal Conservation, there was no mention of recreational angling in its first interim report. It mentioned only "overfishing" and "unsustainable fishing," putting sports fishermen and commercial fleets in the same boat.

Following more imput from the fishing community, task force leadership acknowledged that the voice of anglers had been heard, in conjunction with the issuance of the second report in mid December.

Still, many within the fishing industry believe some task force members favor a management strategy that would close waters to recreational fishing. They also fear that inclusion of the Great Lakes and coastal waters in the plan would open the door for federal intrusion into management of inland rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. And they point out that the task force seems insistent on the United States (U.S.) adhering to the United Nations (U.N.) Law of the Sea treaty, even though it has not signed on.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee in 2004, Jeane Kirkpatrick, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that ratification would "diminish our capacity for self-government, including, ultimately, our capacity for self-defense."

For many environmental groups, however, adhering to that treaty would be a good thing. In a position paper, several dozen organizations called on Obama to issue an executive order that not only sets policy, but aligns the nation in several ways with U.N. management.

On Jan. 7, Ocean Champions, one of those groups, sent out an e-mail blast encouraging attendance at rallies to "let the President know that you value our oceans," adding that the "task force has done its job, and now it's up to President Obama to issue an executive order creating this policy."

Morlock said the President promised an inclusive and transparent process "and, as such, we anticipate the final task force report to the President will incorporate input that it received from the recreational fishing community during the entire process, including the current public comment period."

And in opposing an executive order, he added, "More than 45 million Americans fish, and these anglers support a lot of jobs across this county  and any new federal policy and giant new bureaucracy that may adversely affect this economy deserves to be reviewed by Congress, as well as the administration.

"An executive order by the President would be an end run on the very transparency the administration has promised."

The WWF also figured prominently in the global warming debate, now known to some as "climategate."